Bathtub Seances, Delayed News of Passing, and Facebook as a Mausoleum

sammy bath tub

I just found out through a chance appearance on my Facebook feed that another friend and lover of mine in Denver passed away six months ago (it wasn’t that long ago that I learned that another friend and lover of mine in Denver, John, passed away as well – you can see my memorial to him and my conflicted reflections on public mourning and Facebook here). Somehow I missed this news entirely, no doubt because I’ve been away abroad doing other things. A friend of Sammy’s just posted on his wall saying that she had dreamed of him appearing in the back of a car. She’d asked him how it was he could be there, and he’d replied, “I’m everywhere”. I went to his page, realizing I’d not seen sign of him in ages, only to discover that he had taken his own life in July of last year at the age of 31.

Sammy came up in conversation only a day or two ago, while I was talking with my friend Ella who’s my current travelling partner in Rajasthan. I told Ella a story about an unusual experience that I once shared with Sammy that has always stuck with me. When I told it to her I made a mental note to reach out to Sammy to find out how he was, and to ask him if he’d mind recounting his version of events to me for comparison. I now realize this won’t be possible in the way that I had hoped.

Given how the story links with my discovery of Sammy’s passing and his friend’s dream of him, I recount it here now to honor his memory and these recent synchronicities. It seems worth doing since I feel like I should say something, do something to commemorate Sammy. It’s a weird feeling finding out someone you care about is gone, so long after it’s happened.

Sammy was my first ever online hook up – the first person that I ever invited over directly to my house through a social app, without having met up somewhere else first. That night, coming home from the bars I’d started talking to him online, and he’d asked if I’d let him come over. This was shortly after I’d moved from Boulder to Denver into my own single apartment. I’d never had a smart phone or home internet access in my apartment in South Africa before moving to the States, and had not felt safe or comfortable with hookups before. I chatted to Sammy on the phone before deciding to give him my address in Capitol Hill. It was the early hours of the morning. I am a suspicious, guarded person by nature. I’m small, disabled – I don’t feel I can physically protect myself against aggression, violence. I remember I put a knife next to my bed. Still, I talked to Sammy on the phone and explained that I didn’t usually go in for these kinds of rendezvous, that I wanted to hear his voice first to get a read on him, and I was put at ease. I liked Sammy’s vibe immediately, and he came over and spent the night.

We arranged to get together again. We both liked each other and wanted to hang out in a more extended way, so I agreed to make him dinner at my place, after which he could spend the night again. We made a date to meet one very cold winter’s afternoon at the Kween Soopers (what queers I know call the prime-cruising-terrain King Soopers chain supermarket which sits right in the heart of Denver’s gaybourhood, and which was about ten blocks away from my place at the time). Before heading out to meet Sammy and brave the mild snow storm that was raging that day, I took a long bath. Hardly surprisingly, while in the bath I found myself relaxing both physically and mentally. Somewhat unexpectedly though, I also found myself falling quite naturally into a light trance state. While unanticipated, this was still a fairly familiar feeling after having practiced self-hypnosis, meditation and the like for a number of years. I decided to go with it, and let myself sink and relax deeper into the space in which I had found myself.

Doing so, I realized I was suddenly aware of a strong ‘presence’. It’s hard to articulate these things exactly, but some of you will know what I mean when I say that I was mentally aware of a very distinct intelligence, one which I sensed both as something very near, sort of positioned ‘in the back of my mind’, and as something external, something heavy and sentient that was reaching out to me in Denver – a naked body suspended in lukewarm bathwater and wintery ceramic tile – across vast spaces. “HELLO”, the entity said. Its voice vibrated a deep, robotic tone. It was resonant and powerful, but had a blurry, buzzing quality – it sounded more male than female, but was still neither. I had the feeling that whoever the speaker was it might have been human once, but was now no longer. It did not feel malevolent, just a little clinical and intense. It carried with it that cold curiosity and weird directness that I have come over the years to associate with various non-human ‘others’, or spirits.

Those of you who know me a little better will know that spirit encounters are not entirely out of the ordinary for me, but still, I was already dawdling and I knew I couldn’t float in a half-trance state and lose perception of time while talking to a supernatural cold-caller when I was meant to meet Sammy and go grocery shopping. I was intrigued by this meeting but told the being that I would get back in touch at a more opportune time to find out more about who it was and what it was about. I thanked it and returned more fully to myself and my surroundings and quickly toweled off, got dressed and headed out.

Over the next few hours, Sammy and I made dinner and drank wine as planned, and shared more details about our lives and interests with each other. I mentioned to him that I had had a longstanding interest and involvement in the occult and the ‘paranormal’, things which had no doubt lead me to become a professional anthropologist with an interest in religion. I think I may have mentioned the bathtub incident to Sammy as a case in point, but if I did I don’t think we went into it in too much detail. Sammy told me more about himself, his experiences growing up, his struggles with addiction and various other things. We got along well – we were very different in many ways, but I was quickly struck by how incredibly honest and open-hearted he was. He wasn’t trying to fool me or anyone else, and his fierce acceptance of others for all their foibles, his compassion coupled with his lack of patience for bullshit won me over right away.

Sammy shut the windows and blinds, put on music and turned my already pokey apartment into an even cozier world of two. He knew how he wanted things to go. He liked to stay permanently ‘buzzed’ – his strategy was to keep drinking and eating in small portions so he could stay wobbling joyfully on a kind of golden tightrope of tipsiness for hours. He was an expert at fun, at bobbing extendedly in this kind of haze. He administered fresh drinks with both the studied seriousness of a physician and the cheeky flair of a jester, of a consummate performer. I fell easily into a dreamy rhythm with him. We kissed and danced and grinded all over the tiny apartment and the world outside flickered in and out of existence.

At one point we decided to warm up by taking a bath together. Sammy found candles which he lit in the bathroom. Taking more red wine with us, we carried on making out in the tub and steam and half-light. I took a gulp of wine and kissed Sammy deeply as he pressed against the side of the tub and faucet (he was a lot taller than me and I was in his lap I think) and then something strange happened. I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. One part of me was vaguely aware that I had spilled my wine. “Did I drop my glass?” I wondered, a spike of alarm piercing the haze of my thoughts as I worried that there might now be shards in the tub. I was confused. “What’s happened?” I thought. I became aware that I must have fainted, since my awareness was no longer entirely in my body and in the bathroom. “Oh god,” a part of me groaned. “How embarrassing – I’ve left my body while making out naked with a boy. How long have I been out for? He’s going to think I’ve had an epileptic fit or something. How embarrassing, terrible timing. Of course I’d fucking astral project while making out with a boy. Oh my god – am I unconscious?! Have I been out for seconds, for minutes..hours??” As I struggled through these split-second vaguely panicky thoughts I became aware that the part of my awareness that was split, that was at a remove from my body, was somewhere else. On the one hand it seemed to be floating in the bathroom, but not really. Rather, it was in a different time-and-space somehow laid over the ordinary bathroom, both there and not there, and everything was over-exposed and suffused with bright white light.

From out of this glare came three figures. They were black silhouettes, warped, stretched long and elongated as they stepped out from a film of luminosity. I could make out no specific features, but the center of the three stood out taller, was bigger, closer, while his companions waited somewhat behind and to the side. “HELLO” said the middle figure again, expectantly, and I recognized it through its voice and aura as my earlier visitor. The room crackled with light and intensity as the long-limbed and headed leader leaned forward. I was in a daze, being pulled as I was between worlds. Next thing I knew Sammy was slapping me. “Tell those people to leave!” he hissed in my ear as his lips brushed my cheek and I came to.

So I did. Once again I mentally willed my cold-caller to depart, explaining that this was a bad time and I was sorry. As suddenly as they’d appeared, the entities, the light and the dislocation were gone. Sammy and I carried on making out and didn’t say a word about what had happened, not then, the next day or ever again since. Post-bathroom scene we eventually passed out hours later, and Sammy lay in a deep sleep until late the next day, sprawled out on my bed with Lady Gaga’s ‘Government Hooker’ blazing on repeat in his headphones while a friend came over to pierce my ear with a safety-pin and a wedge of potato.

I still don’t know. Maybe I imagined all of it, but I don’t think so. I’ve never fainted in any conventional sense before, and it’s curious that Sammy knew that there was more than one visitor in the bathroom that night. Even if I did tell him about my earlier encounter in the bathtub that day, even I had initially only been made aware of one being and not a trio. Maybe I talked aloud to Sammy when I slipped out of my body. I don’t know. I do know that Sammy was someone full of joy and fierce love for others, and yet full of demons. Falling off that golden tightrope could be scary I think. I loved spending time with him, loved seeing him out at local bars, where he was usually shirtless and called me ‘Lover’ in a sly but absolutely unreserved, unironic way that made me, a sometimes secretive person, feel so happy. He made so many people feel loved and happy.

Around the time of our bathroom experiences he seemed to be going through a lot of difficulties: physical and verbal fights with people he knew and strangers, run-ins with the law, difficulty with his health, employment, his state of being. I loved him and who he was, the chemistry that we had, but we shared few real friends, and I shied away from him and what seemed like his tumultuous life. I didn’t think then that I could walk with him on that joyous fragile tightrope, could sustain his way of living and coping myself, or invite his difficulties into my own life. We weren’t intimate again, but we kept in touch. I never tried to contact those entities again and moved out of my apartment not too long after all that happened.

I guess the fact that I didn’t know if I could invite Sammy into my life more fully is sad in a way, considering that he seemed capable of making so much space for others, and was ready to engage with the unexpected ‘visitors’ and contingencies in my life that night. Who knows. Maybe the visitors came as much for him as me. I can’t say. I wish he was still here and I could ask him about that night and laugh with him again. I’m sad you’re gone Sammy and I hope you’ve gone in peace. X

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